Setup: In this story, Xena is the hero. She is not an evil monster; she doesnt go around slashing and hacking indiscriminately at people after being overwhelmed by bloodlust. Shes just a quiet, reformed Warlord who goes around helping people, and likes to kick some serious butt in the process. Consider her a first season Xena in a third season world. Gabrielle, on the other hand is a mixture; combining both first season spirit and third season strength. Isnt it great to mix and match your characters? Wheee! Gotta love that third season.
Disclaimer: This is a not-for-profit work of fan-fiction based around the characters portrayed in the syndicated television series, Xena:Warrior Princess which is copyrighted by MCA. I just borrowed them without their permission for this story.
Yes, there is violence, but not much more than is portrayed in the TV series. Oh, and there is some profanity as well, but just a little.
Any and all comments and criticisms welcome! E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Anne Taylor
It was a clear summers morning. The high-pitched chirping of the field crickets arose with the warm breeze rustling the green heads of the ripening grain in its passing. The slow, steady thud of horses hooves on hard-packed dirt, and the errant skittering of a small rock being kicked along the road by a well-worn pair of boots were the only other sounds to disturb the peace of the countryside.
From her seat on top of a tall, golden mare, the dark-haired warrior in black leathers and brass armor glanced up at the clear blue sky, noting that the rain clouds, which had threatened earlier that morning, had been meant for someone else. Shifting sharp eyes down, they came to rest on the profile of a trim young woman in a tan, thigh-length wrap-around skirt, and a brief woven halter top striding along beside her.
The warrior unhooked a waterskin from the saddle, pulled the stopper, and raised it to her lips. Taking a long pull, she wiped a few escaping drops from her chin with the back of her hand as she scanned the fields around them. Absently, she moved the waterskin down and silently touched it to her companions shoulder.
"Xena, please, why wont you come with me?"
Ignoring the gesture, the strawberry-blond shifted the staff she was carrying to her other hand, and turned her gaze from the stone shed been kicking ahead to look up past the proffered waterskin into the deep blue eyes now regarding her.
Sighing, the warrior closed those eyes in quiet desperation while she re-stopped the skin, and returned it to its place. Theyd been having this argument on and off since theyd broken camp that morning.
She knew what the problem was: she just couldnt get her friend to see her position. She was sorry Gabrielle was hurt by her decision, but it couldnt be helped. She didnt have any choice and, she thought with frustration, had run out of ways to say it.
Opening her eyes again, she almost winced when she saw the pleading look in her friends face. "Gabrielle, I told you, its not that I dont want to come with you. Its just that, after my last visit to the village, theyre going to need a lot more time than this to cool down. They have very long memories and dont forgive easily."
Gabrielles pleading expression didnt change. Xena felt herself begin to soften but abruptly caught herself when she remembered the look on Ephinys face the last time. Steeling her resolve and turning back to the road ahead, she continued in a firmer tone. "No Gabrielle, its better if you make this visit by yourself. Ill go home and spend some time with my mother. We can meet up in a week or so."
Frustrated because she thought shed seen a wavering behind those now set blue-eyes, Gabrielle was about to snap back when she froze. Shed almost forgotten the Bards First Rule: know your audience. Taking a moment to study the profile of the woman mounted next to her, she could tell by the set of that beautiful jaw that she was wasting her time.
Instinctively looking down in time for her boot to once again connect with the stone, her eyes followed it as it skipped down the road. She bit her lip, thinking furiously. It was obvious shed have to try a different approach.
Okay, what about this one?
Using her most reasonable voice, Gabrielle turned her face towards her friend once again. "Xena, I really think youre over-dramatizing things here."
An eyebrow arose at that.
With Xenas lifestyle and the amazing things she did on a regular basis, drama was her middle name...often, whether she wanted it or not.
Okay, Plan C.
"No, really. After all youve done for them; once I talk to Ephiny and the others, explain to them, I know things will be all right." Getting caught up in the logic of this argument, her staff started to keep pace with her boots. She broadened her stride and faced forward, her other hand seeming to join in on its own. "After all, what happened was between us, right? Just you and me. Why should they..."
"Gabrielle." A warning growl from over her shoulder stopped her in mid-argument.
She sighed to herself, her pace slackening.
Looking up, the bard was a little afraid she might have finally angered her friend until she noticed the softening in the lines around those incredible blue eyes.
With a self-depreciating smile, Xena leaned down and placed a warm hand on the young womans shoulder. Looking up directly into those eyes, Gabrielles breath caught. She never ceased to be amazed by the depths she saw peering back at her.
"The Amazons take a very dim view of someone riding into their village, attacking their people and dragging away their Queen, Gabrielle." The warriors voice now held a low, pleading note. "Please, trust me. Now is not a good time for me to go with you."
Gabrielle wasnt surprised by the regret and guilt she saw flash across her companions face as she spoke of the recent past. Studying Xena for a moment before turning silently back to the road, she executed a short skip as her boot caught up with the stone and she kicked it ahead once more.
Gabrielle had been looking forward to spending time with Ephiny and the other Amazons ever since shed talked Xena into the visit. The past few months had taken a very heavy toll on them both and Gabrielle ached to just spend some time relaxing and recuperating, safe in the womens village.
And they were so near.
At first, Xena had avoided discussing making the trip back to the Amazon lands. It had taken dogged determination on Gabrielles part to get her to agree. In fact, if the truth were told, it was only after the bards angry reminder of Xenas promise to treat her as an equal, that the warrior had finally given in
So, after a week of travel mixed with mounting anticipation, it had been a big disappointment this morning when Xena had announced after breakfast that she would not be continuing on with the bard. Gabrielle hadnt tried to hide her disappointment as Xena explained she was going to take this opportunity to spend some time in Amphipolis with her family.
Sidetracked now in her thoughts as something caught her eye, Gabrielle turned her head and noticed the smooth muscles rippling beneath the powerful thigh beside her. Smiling, her heart quickened as she watched the flickers of movement play beneath the faded scars, taught muscles firmly directing the horse beneath them. Both women were in pretty good shape physically.
Her breath sped up and her hand tightened around the smooth wood of the staff as she remembered last evenings exhilaration when she'd come so close to scoring a hit in practice drills with Xena. The bard realized, glancing down at her own trim form, if push came to shove, they were both back in top condition.
Another distraction as a swift kick sent little dust trails bouncing down the road.
But, she reflected, while on the surface things seemed to be almost back to normal between them, she knew they had lost something. Stealing a quick glance back up at the dark force beside her, she realized she hadnt been aware of just how much this incredibly complex woman had begun to open herself up to her until recent events had made her withdraw.
Oh, on the surface it was business as usual. Stop a Warlord here, save a Princess there. Friends who saw them together wouldnt have noticed any difference. But she did. When she looked into those eyes now she saw lurking in their depths, deep in the shadows, a barrier; a high wall that she was no longer allowed to pass beyond.
Thats why she'd been so disappointed. Shed hoped to have this opportunity to try to breech that wall. She wanted to talk with Xena, free from the pressures and distractions of the road around them. Shed hoped to use the time with the Amazons to concentrate on reestablishing the trust between them; a foundation that had been badly cracked and shifted by recent events.
So, reluctant to admit defeat that morning, Gabrielle had used her bardly skills to convince the warrior not to leave right then, which would have made sense, but instead to take the longer route and travel with her at least to the Amazon boundary before heading out on her own for Amphipolis. The bard figured, at least that way, shed have more time to work on getting Xena to change her mind.
Casting her gaze back to the road, the young woman let out a frustrated sigh.
Why did Xena have to be so stubborn. Sure her friend had said that what shed done to her would be considered a very serious crime by the Amazons, but she knew she could straighten that out. After all, she was their Queen, right? Theyd have to listen to her. So what was Xenas problem?
As the morning progressed, the countryside gradually changed from rolling, green hills to dense, cool forests but Gabrielle scarcely noticed as she silently became more and more angry and frustrated with Xenas decision not to go with her.
Okay, so Xena was a proud woman and returning to the Amazons under these circumstances had to be hard for her. But, surly their friendship was worth swallowing a little pride for. Xena must know how important this was to her.
Xena knew Gabrielles prolonged silence and the gradual quickening of the muttering bards pace meant she was in for trouble. Giving Argo a nudge with her knees to catch up to her rapidly receding friend, the warrior wondered if she should to try to forestall the fight by engaging now in an attempt to bleed off some steam. Moving up alongside the bard, she noticed an expressive hand emphatically supporting a point the young woman was making in her mind and decided to wait. One big fight when they parted seemed easier somehow than a bunch of smaller ones along the way.
Shifting in the gently rocking saddle beneath her, she stretched a protesting muscle before settling back and letting her eyes rest once again on the dirt road ahead. As they crested a small hill and passed into yet another valley, Xena silently wished shed been able to talk Gabrielle out of her visit to the Amazons. She'd rather not leave her friend right now, but she knew it was just too dangerous for her to return to the Amazon Nation with her. In fact, she thought with deep regret, she may never be able to go back. Not after what shed done. Which would make it very difficult for Gabrielle, since her travelling companion was also their Queen.
Shifting the reins to her other hand and draping the now free one over her thigh, she closed her eyes as memories came flooding back of the past two months. Her stomach dropped suddenly at the remembered pain of that long, lonely journey when she was sure shed never see her best friend again. Her dark eyebrows pulled together as, with a slight shake of her head, she tried to focus her thoughts. She knew she was being stupid. After all, she was Xena, Destroyer of Nations, Scourge of Cirra, conqueror of half of Greeceat least in a former life. Now, here she was, upset because a little slip of a girl was going to leave her for a week.
But, Xena was a warrior. And as hard as she tried, she just didnt know where to find the words to ask Gabrielle not to leave, even for a little while. And, she obviously wasnt getting anywhere in explaining why she couldnt accompany Gabrielle to the village.
So, taking a deep breath, she fought back that feeling of dread that had been threatening to overwhelm her for the past week and opened her eyes. To see a pair of green ones bobbing along beside her, studying her intently. She responded to the concerned look with a nonchalant smile and a quick shrug. Ignoring the bards puzzled expression as she returned to studying their route ahead once more.
Well, shed face this like she did everything else these days: one day at a time; a strategy shed fallen back on when, once again, her faith in herself and the others in her life had been profoundly shaken.
The sunlight filtered through the trees directly overhead and painted the forest floor in shifting shades of green. Just before midday, the muffled thuds of hoof beats marked their progress as they left the damp leaves covering the well-worn road and headed down a narrow mud path cut through the dense underbrush. Well hidden, except to those who knew where to look, the seemingly overgrown path would lead them directly to the boundary of the Amazons lands.
Forced to travel single file now, they moved in silence for a few more minutes before entering a small clearing created by the falling of a great tree, which had finally lost its battle with the ravages of a lightening strike the previous summer. Here, they paused and waited, as their eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness. In the middle of the clearing, a shaft of sunlight was directed by the noon sun through the sparser cover and down to a spot on the forest floor. This island of light and warmth was crowded with an abundance of small plants and fragrant wildflowers struggling to compete with the more aggressive bushes and young trees spreading out towards the sun in a winner takes all race.
Xena pulled up alongside the bard and brought Argo to a halt. "Okay, Gabrielle. This is as far as I go. Just follow this path and it will take you directly to the..."
"Xena!" Gabrielle exploded, twisting around, her green eyes flashing. Simmering silently for so long, her anger was on full boil now. "I cant believe youre being such a coward and not coming with me." Feet apart, she planted her staff in the ground and moved her free hand to rest, clenched, on her other hip. Glaring up at the warrior, she challenged, "Youre going to have to face them sometime, you know."
Although Xena was expecting the outburst, the accusation and the flash of pain it caused still momentarily surprised her. Raising her eyes as if to examine what remained of the forests previous tenant, she seemed to debate with herself for a minute before looking back down at her companion with a grim smile.
"Yeah, well, just not today. Okay?"
"Xena, I dont believe this. If you think "
Gabrielle was gathering herself up for another blast but stopped when she saw the warrior tense and straighten as the blue eyes abruptly left hers and began to intently scan the trees around them. Xenas eyes narrowed as she focused on the foliage; her voice held a note of urgency. "Gabrielle, move away from me. Slowly."
Extending her senses as shed been taught, but not picking up any threat, the bard tried to figure out what had set her friend off.
"Xena, what is it?"
"Dont argue. Just move." As Gabrielle still hesitated, Xena added with a sharpness, "Now!"
Stung, Gabrielle was about to snap back when her senses suddenly picked up the soft rustle of bodies moving through the trees all around them. On full alert now, her heart sped up and she felt the adrenaline start to pump as she snapped her staff to the ready position. Peering intently into the underbrush, she finally did what she was asked, and began to move away from the horse and rider, her back to them
Xena knew she was in trouble. When shed heard the soft clicks of the crossbows being cocked in the trees surrounding the small clearing, her first concern was Gabrielle. Once away from her, she knew the bard would be safe.
Keeping her hands draped nonchalantly on the pommel of her saddle where theyd come to rest, she unhurriedly scanned the surrounding trees. Senses on full alert but seemingly unconcerned, the warrior waited for her friend to move far enough away from her to be clear of any crossfire. As she waited, she calculated her options, which it turned out, seemed to be few. She could try to make a run for it or trust to the mercy of those surrounding them. Xena knew she could probably take them in open combat, despite their numbers, but because of Gabrielle, this wasnt one of her options.
The decision was taken out of her hands when she heard the "thwang" of several crossbolts suddenly released. Her instincts kicked in as her right hand moved in a blur to grab a feathered shaft out of midair, just inches from her face. She twisted around in the saddle and knocked down two more that had been heading for her back from different directions. Unfortunately, she wasnt able to swing herself back in position in time to prevent another bolt from imbedding itself deep into the front of her left shoulder above her armor breastplate and then another found its mark high up on her right thigh.
While all this was happening, the trees around them had come alive in a shower of leaves as silent, leather-clad figures dropped out of the branches, rappelling swiftly to the forest floor. Once down among the leaf litter, they drew their swords and advanced as more crossbolts flew out of the upper trees towards the warrior.
Gabrielle, her back to Xena, heard the deadly projectiles and then saw the silent warriors in masks dropping down all around them. In an instant of recognition, she threw her staff to the ground and stood still, her hands clasped together above her head in a sign of peaceful greeting. Glancing over her shoulder to check on Xena, she froze in horror at the macabre sight of her friend, feathered shafts sticking out of her, trying to stay seated on a skittish Argo, as the silent warriors closed in on her.
Xena could feel herself going into shock and fought to stay mounted. She was running on instinct now and that instinct was screaming at her to get out of there. She spun her head and spotted her chance, signaling Argo to turn towards the break shed noticed in the closing circle of swords. Before the war-horse could complete the turn, however, another bolt slammed into her lower back, catching her just beneath the left side of her rib cage. This time, the force of its momentum knocked the weakened warrior forward off Argos back. Grunting as she hit the ground, Xena struggled for a moment, trying to get her arms and legs under her, before she sank back down one last time, unable to hold the blackness back any longer.
Overcoming the shock of seeing her friend now lying face down on the forest floor, feathered shafts sticking out at odd angles from her body, Gabrielle reacted. Ignoring the silent figures closing in around them, she turned and ran, diving to her knees beside the unconscious warrior and throwing herself over Xenas back. Shielding the fallen warrior with her own body, she turned desperately pleading eyes towards those whod ambushed them, screaming, "No! Stop! What are you doing!"
Chapter 2 next